Scott Singer on the Next Chapter at Avison Young
Singer & Bassuk Organization (SBO) hit the headlines recently with a big announcement that the firm, which has been arranging debt and equity for more than half a century, would be acquired by Avison Young.
Commercial Observer chatted with Scott Singer to find out how the acquisition came about, what he expects in this next chapter, and what the immediate market opportunities are as he takes his new seat.
Commercial Observer: Congratulations on the Avison Young announcement! Can you tell us how this acquisition came about?
Scott Singer: Thank you! The evolution with Avison Young is very exciting for us. We’ve a lot of good friends here already, and James Nelson [principal and head of Avison Young’s tri-state investment sales group] actually facilitated an introduction.
It represents a wonderful opportunity for us, given the mix that Avison represents of a large national and international entity with significant presence in New York, but with a real need to create a robust debt and equity finance team.
For us, it was super exciting because we loved where we were, and this was a perfect opportunity for us to take our group and put it in the middle of a dynamic place, and within a platform that we view as rocket fuel under our reputation and our experience.
What was the timeline in terms of this deal coming together?
The initial lunch that I had with James was probably my last lunch before the pandemic. Since then, it’s been an education process beyond James and the other people who I knew here. So, meeting Mark Rose [Avison Young’s CEO] and understanding both the vision and the platform here, and the tools that exist.
Avison’s desire to continue building the New York office and the finance presence very much jibes with Andy’s and my desire to build on the assets that we had at Singer & Bassuk, but within a larger format. It really allows us to focus even more time on our existing clients and new clients, and to offer new services that we’ve never had the opportunity to offer before.
I now sit next to James, who is one of the best sales brokers in New York and has one of the best marketing and social media presences among anyone of my generation. So that’s wonderful.
In the other direction, we have several decades of history doing nine-figure deals and eight-figure deals in New York City. We bring that track record of expertise to work with James’ team and independently to service clients. Our clients have been universally excited as we’ve quietly rolled out the news over the last few weeks.
It must have been a difficult decision for you and Andy to make.
It was a decision that we didn’t take lightly. We thought long and hard about it, but in the end, it wasn’t a difficult decision because it became so clear that it was right — for each of us, and for our team. It really became an evolution of what we were doing; we have all the capabilities and flexibility that we had before, but we have added enormous additional resources and services. So, we became better by doing it. We built our reputation by providing a high level of service to our clients — and we’re going to continue to do so.
One of the great appeals here is that what Avison wants us to do is continue operating from a dealmaking perspective, the way that we have in the past. Avison as a platform is very accretive to what we do, and the assets and people of Singer & Bassuk will be very accretive to Avison’s whole New York office. I haven’t even mentioned Mitti Liebersohn [president and managing director of Avison Young’s New York City office] or Arthur Mirante [principal and chairman of the tri-state region] — it’s really a full-service suite of New York-savvy people here.
Beyond that, what they have done very successfully here — which we did not attempt to do at SBO — is to surround themselves with a group of up-and-coming younger stars. And part of what we plan to do, expect to do, and were brought in to do is to build a larger team here and identify some terrific younger people who we can mentor and utilize to give us dramatically more bandwidth than we had at SBO.
What’s the biggest market opportunity out there today?
We’re in what is currently an all-time low borrowing rate environment. Clients and properties can attract competitive debt offers. We also have a potentially very attractive buying opportunity in New York City for maybe the first time in 20-plus years.
We led an investment partnership that took advantage of a purchase opportunity early on, and I think it’s a very attractive time for owners who are financially stronger, with properties that are performing well, to borrow long term at all-time low rates. We are advising our clients to take advantage of that.
At the same time, there is both debt and equity available at liquidity levels that are about as high as we’ve ever seen for sponsors who have a long-term belief in New York City, as we do, who have the experience through various cycles, and who can show that they know how to get through challenging times. I think there’s a buying opportunity that may be unique in my career, because certainly some sentiment has turned against New York City and against [central business districts].
We’re early enough in the recovery and it is sometimes hard to see the path through. But, I think, on the other hand, there will be great fortunes made by sponsors who acquire now, so long as they build capital structures that can survive the fits and starts that will likely come from this recovery.
For the right sponsors, is the competition fully back in the debt markets?
Absolutely. I think the capital markets are very intelligent. I would not say this is a time of easy money, but it is a time of plentiful money for sponsors with both a strong track record and internal financial strength. It’s a very hard time to do your first deal, but it doesn’t have to be only the largest firms who are getting competitive rates. There are many smaller firms who have either built a niche or who have done multiple transactions in challenging times who can make a very strong argument for how they perform.
I think that for groups who are making intelligent acquisitions with strong capital stacks that are designed to perform well — even if there’s not a linear recovery — there’s absolutely competition from both debt and equity investors. There’s such a need for yield among the investing community and so much money in the system. It’s not being given away, but, on the other hand, the best originators in the business are seeking transactions to put a lot of money into in order to generate yield for the enormous universe of investors who have capital they need to put to work.
Any big takeaways from this crisis?
I’m a big believer that we will return to work environments that are more similar to the past than is the current common belief. It’s hard to look past that period of time that still exists, when many of the benefits of being in the office have not yet returned. It’s not as advantageous to be in an office that is 50 percent full, and it makes it much easier to say, ‘It’s nice to work remotely,’ because you get the benefit of not having to commute at a time when you don’t really get the full benefit of being surrounded by colleagues with good ideas and collaborating.
But, I am a total believer in the fact that humans have congregated in dense urban locations for the last 1,000 years for a reason. That reason still exists, and it exists for people at all age levels. I do think there will be permanently more flexibility in the workplace. But I think that the ambitious entrepreneurial doers will continue to find that the most exciting things happen when people collaborate in person.